ALISTER Jack seemed somewhat enthusiastic this week about stirring up a hornet’s nest over Scotland’s promotion of itself on the international stage.

This issue has in recent months become a real bone of contention between the Scottish Government and the Conservatives at Westminster. And it formed the basis of a Scottish Affairs Committee hearing at Westminster on Monday, on the topic of “promoting Scotland internationally”.

Secretary of State for Scotland Mr Jack got the ball rolling just ahead of this meeting, by declaring: “Our recent report shows that Scotland benefits hugely from the scale and reach of the UK Government’s international engagement and influence.

“From international security to trade and culture, the UK Government’s international departments and agencies are securing the interest of all parts of the United Kingdom.”

The assertion that the UK Government’s international departments and agencies are “securing the interest of all parts” of the UK on the trade front is an interesting claim indeed.

Civil servants and other non-elected individuals working in these departments and agencies might well be doing a diligent job on this front on a day-to-day basis, in terms of effort and professionalism.

However, that is surely not the crux of the matter in the context of Mr Jack’s remarks.

Mr Jack’s assertion might surely be interpreted by many as a declaration that the Conservative Government is doing a good job in the areas he mentions, on behalf of the devolved nations and England.

However, Brexit has hampered in an extraordinary way Scotland’s trade with its most important export market, the European Economic Area.

Scotland’s electorate was firmly opposed to leaving the European Union, and we should never lose sight of this when we hear the Tories proclaim most boldly that they are somehow acting in everyone’s interests.

Leaving the EU has, of course, hampered greatly companies the length and breadth of the UK which export to the EEA and import from this huge and important bloc, by ending the frictionless trade from which they benefited so enormously.

For the avoidance of doubt, Brexit has had entirely the opposite effect of “securing the interest” of Scotland on international trade. The same applies to its effect on the rest of the UK, whatever Mr Jack might want to portray.

Mr Jack’s remarks ahead of the committee meeting were therefore, to say the very least, quite remarkable. Some might view them as disingenuous but who knows on that score?

When we got to Mr Jack’s actual testimony on Monday, this very much reinforced the impression that one thing the Tories really do not like at all is Scottish Government ministers, when talking to overseas governments and their representatives, mentioning a desire to rejoin the EU.

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You wonder occasionally whether this might be partly because the Conservatives, deep down, actually know how foolish and indefensible a decision their hard Brexit was, though it would be a brave person who would bet on the Tories being embarrassed or apologetic about their dire lack of judgement.

Of course, arch-Brexiters are known for their great intolerance of any suggestion of rejoining the EU, even as their folly wreaks havoc on the UK economy and bears down heavily on living standards in these toughest of times.

The UK Government’s recent efforts to control Scotland’s engagement with other countries have looked very heavy-handed indeed, and it would be difficult to conclude other than that this interference has worrying implications for the economy north of the Border.

Earlier in the spring, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly decided to intervene on Scottish Government ministers’ engagement with other countries. And it is an issue on which there seems to have been more than a little grandstanding by the Conservatives.

Mr Cleverly wrote a letter on March 31 to heads of UK missions abroad, entitled “Working with the Scottish Government internationally” and covering new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office guidance on “how to manage and support devolved government ministerial visits overseas”.

“Manage and support” constitutes interesting language.

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Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Angus Robertson wrote to Mr Cleverly on May 1, declaring: “I am concerned about the damage the letter and guidance could do to Scottish trade, cultural exchanges and education, and to Scottish interests in general.”

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Mr Robertson claimed the new guidance “is further example of the UK Government’s intention to undermine devolution”, adding: “The UK Government’s apparent determination to reduce Scotland to the status of a mere administrative unit and for it to be characterised as such by UK Government diplomats is unacceptable.”

Giving the impression of someone on his high horse, Mr Jack declared to the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday: “Consuls of foreign countries have made this point to me directly - that they find it uncomfortable when the Scottish Government ministers raise separation, independence or other foreign affairs issues, constitutional foreign affairs, with them…They understand that…we are one state, the United Kingdom, and it puts them in an invidious position, and it is not appreciated.”

He declared that Mr Robertson had on one occasion “described Brexit as a calamity, said it had posed additional challenges for Scotland, not least because Scotland was pro-EU”, and that, at a St Andrew’s Day reception in a European capital had “criticised the impact of the EU exit on student exchange programmes to Scotland”.

Mr Robertson observed in his May 1 letter: “It should be needless to say that Scottish Government ministers would never purport to speak for the UK. The fact that we have very different views on matters such as immigration, asylum and Brexit will be well known to governments overseas, and it would be absurd to think that our such views could be confused with those of the UK Government.”

It is surely absolutely the case that the governments of other countries would not confuse the Scottish Government’s views on the crucial issues of immigration, asylum and Brexit with the entrenched ideology of the ruling Conservatives on these topics. The Tories have been very noisy indeed about their views as they have whipped up a populist crescendo in the UK.

The Conservatives' clampdown on immigration from the EEA at a time when the UK is in the grip of an extraordinary skills and labour shortages crisis, their hard Brexit and the attendant destruction of frictionless trade, and their attitudes on asylum could hardly be more different to the Scottish Government’s views.

And it is difficult to see what on earth is wrong with Scottish Government ministers stating the reality of Brexit and, for example, the effects on the labour force of the clampdown on immigration, given these matters will often be most pertinent to discussions relating to business and economic affairs.

Why should they have to come across as silent, or worse still somehow lacking in reason, by not stating the reality of the situation, just because it irks the Conservative Government at Westminster?